Labour has a new opportunity at conference – to shape a new defence policy

27th September, 2015 10:12 am
The Labour leader stands foursquare against the replacement of Trident. During his election campaign his stance on this was overwhelmingly popular in hustings and public meetings. It is a position that resonated with the public and drew enormous support – which should give heart to those who still have the mistaken view that getting rid of nuclear weapons is a vote loser.
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His landslide victory is a mandate to pursue that position and that is what is happening at this conference. Jeremy wants the debate on Trident and party members outside the conference want a debate: now it is in the hands of delegates at the Priorities Ballot – to put it on conference agenda. And it’s worth remembering: the other crisis issues in the Priorities Ballot – housing, NHS, mental health, social services – would all be eased by cancelling the replacement plans and reinvesting the money.
This is the crucial moment to have this debate and vote to change Labour policy on Trident. Parliament is expected to decide early next year whether or not to replace Trident. There will no doubt be some who say it’s too divisive – that it should be left until next year; that it should head into the National Policy Forum process. Maybe at another time a period of extended debate might make sense. But not this time. At the moment we’re looking at a Tory victory on Trident this spring – over £100 billion on weapons of mass destruction while cuts bite in crucial areas of public spending. Can Labour really support them – just hand them that on a plate? The answer has to be No.  Labour needs a coherent anti-Trident policy for that vote – and for going into next year’s elections.
And no worker employed on Trident will be put out of a job. That is the commitment from Jeremy and his Defence Diversification policy makes that absolutely clear, with the trade unions at the very centre of the process. Whether it’s jobs on the Clyde, at Barrow, Devonport or elsewhere, the invaluable skills of the workforce will be protected and enhanced. As he states: “I am committed to ensure that in transitioning away from nuclear weapons, we do so in a way that protects the jobs and skills of those who currently work on Trident, and in the defence sector more widely.” That is a crucial pledge, because spending on Trident is already costing jobs elsewhere in the defence sector. As the government has cut the Defence budget, very large numbers of jobs have been lost to retain spending on the nuclear weapons sector.
So the next Labour government will establish a Defence Diversification Agency – “jointly between workers, industry and government to ensure that jobs and skills are not just maintained, but also expanded.” This won’t be a top-down initiative but one in which the workers will determine the outcomes and advances for skilled jobs and industrial development. And lessons can also be learned from the often very successful Base Realignment and Closure programme in the United States, which has resulted in long-term net benefits to local economies with minimal transitional unemployment.
So at this conference, Labour has a new opportunity – to move forward together to shape a new defence policy for today’s world; and to shape, develop and expand our industry for the needs of our country. This opportunity lies in the hands of Conference delegates. I urge you to vote for Britain’s Defence Capabilities in the Priorities Ballot and to vote for the composite which opposes Trident replacement.
Kate Hudson is the General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

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